Politics and Public Opinion

Obama: The instincts of an autocrat

White House Flickr stream

White House Flickr stream

For those of us who follow foreign policy, Barack Obama’s hypocrisy on questions related to national security have become so routine, they’re almost boring. Remember Obama running against the “lawless” Bush administration and its illegal war in Iraq, its illegal indefinite detention, its illegal renditions, warrantless wiretaps, its illegal signing statements and more? Guess what. Yes he can, if he is Barack Obama. It all depends on who’s doing the “illegal” detentions, killing, listening, and warmongering. But what about in domestic policy? Turns out, same deal.

This morning, the Wall Street Journal had an editorial on a new executive order the White House is poised to release on cyber security. Here’s the Journal’s take: “The Administration’s evident motive is to impose government oversight of cyberspace.”

Now let’s be scrupulously fair here. Congress had a chance to legislate on cyber and bickered endlessly, but compromise was in the offing when the White House instructed Democrats to stop negotiating, because President Obama isn’t interested in a legislative fix. He’s interested in presidential fiat. Which reminds us just how often he enjoys that fiat. Here are a few other examples of Obama channeling Chavez, all too often with Democratic members of Congress playing the sidekick role of rubber stamp parliament:

  • In an unprecedented move, the President announced that he would recess appoint his man to the controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Why unprecedented? Because Congress was in formal session… but the President decided it was up to him to deem when Congress was or was not meeting. Here’s what Obama announced when he decided that he was the sole arbiter of Congressional recess: “When Congress refuses to act and as a result hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them.”
  • In June, Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security would no longer enforce U.S. law in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants whom the president deemed ought to stay in the country. As my colleague John Yoo explained at the time, the power to decide a path to citizenship, or even the rules of deportation, reside solely with the Congress. This is not a national security matter (in which the President has wide latitude), but a political one (in which he does not). Or, to put it another way – if laws requiring deportation of illegals are subject to presidential discretion, why aren’t laws requiring payment of taxes? Perhaps Democrats could stop paying taxes? Or Obama donors? What’s stopping the president from directing the IRS not to enforce collection on a particular group of people?
  • In February, Obama issued waivers for testing requirements under No Child Left Behind. Teachers hate the requirements, but there are no waivers under NCLB.
  • In July, Obama waived the requirement to work (or try) under the signature Clinton administration Welfare Reform bill. There are no waivers for this specific requirement.

American democracy is always hard fought, and too many are easy with the accusations and light with the facts. But the Obama officials have always been keen on dumping on their predecessor for stretching the power of the presidency. After four years, it looks like it is Obama who has a different view of that office. Perhaps someone could remind Obama he’s not president for life?

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